A battle half won
Arjun: The Warrior Prince
Direction: Arnab Chaudhari
Actors: Ila Arun
The Warrior Prince has some of the most gorgeous images I’ve seen in an Indian animation film in years. In a spectacular sequence, Arjun shoots an arrow through a golden fish to win Draupadi’s hand in marriage. The Chakravyuh army formation also gets stellar treatment in the climax. Director Arnab Chaudhari, referencing Japanese anime and manga, has created a visually rich film with an epic sweep.
Sadly, the characters and narrative don’t have the same strength. The Mahabharata is one of the world’s great stories, brimming with courage, romance, deceit, betrayal and tragedy. The characters are heroic but also damaged, twisted, fallible — the torment of Karna, the right man on the wrong side, and the rage of Draupadi have transfixed successive generations of Indians. In this telling, however, they all become as flat as Arjun’s washboard abs. They have no distinctive characteristics, except perhaps the Machiavellian Shakuni mama, who is short, wheezy, and in the time-honoured traditions of villains, laughs uproariously as he makes Yudhisthira lose his kingdom and his family in a lethal game of dice.
I’m assuming that everyone who goes to see Arjun: The Warrior Prince will already be familiar with the story. So the pleasure lies in the telling. The first half moves like a ponderous history lesson. The narrative picks up pace in the second half but the film never soars. Oddly, for an animation film aimed at children, it also features some startling violence, with headless bodies making appearances in the battle scenes.
Still Arjun: The Warrior Prince is a step forward for Indian animation. I only wish the storytelling itself had been more animated.
(You can watch Anupama Chopra review the latest releases on The Front Row, every Friday at 8.30 pm on Star World)